When a new patient is diagnosed with epilepsy, Dalila Lewis, M.D., pediatric neurologist and epileptologist at the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC), sees both challenges and opportunities. “I want every family to know that I am absolutely committed to providing their child with timely care and connecting the whole family with the network of support resources they need,” says Lewis. As Division Chief of Pediatric Neurology at MUSC Children’s Health, Lewis says these values drive healthcare across the system. “We are very involved in the patient community and in getting support for families,” she explains. “Among the providers here, there’s really a feeling that the medical team partners with the families and the community.”
Lewis, an Associate Professor in the College of Medicine, comes to MUSC from her previous position as Medical Director of the Pediatric Epilepsy Monitoring Unit at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Prior to that, she spent five years as Chief of Pediatric Neurology at Portsmouth Naval Medical Center in Portsmouth, Virginia. Lewis began her medical career as an officer in the United States Air Force, completing medical school at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda, Maryland. She completed her residency training in pediatrics and a fellowship in child neurology prior to separating from active military service. Subsequently, Lewis completed a two-year epilepsy fellowship at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland. Although separated from active military duty since 2016, Lewis remains a member of the Air National Guard Reserve.
Raised by two healthcare providers–her father a physician and her mother a clinical psychologist–Lewis became fascinated by medical science at an early age. She remembers her mother studying dissection for an exam and explaining the various anatomical structures to her. In high school, Lewis looked for opportunities to gain exposure to medicine–shadowing a family physician and volunteering at the emergency room (ER). Although always a serious student, Lewis did find time to sing in a jazz band during her senior year of college.
Despite her quest for knowledge, she found the heart of healthcare through a chance encounter. “I was in tenth grade and volunteering at the ER when they admitted two children who had been badly injured in a car accident. Their parents weren’t with them and, even though I couldn’t do very much, just being there and holding their hands was so meaningful to me. I kept telling them that their parents were on the way and they were going to be OK. It was a really formative experience. A lot of the reward in practicing medicine is in being able to allay someone’s fears and just be there in their time of greatest need,” says Lewis.
One of the few pediatric epileptologists in South Carolina, Lewis primarily sees children with refractory or drug-resistant epilepsy, meaning they have required two or more medications to control their seizures. “I’m very involved in helping identify refractory patients who might be good candidates for epilepsy surgery or other treatments such as dietary therapy,” explains Lewis. Pediatric epilepsy surgery is not widely available because it requires close coordination from a specialized, multi-disciplinary team including neurologists, neurosurgeons, neuropsychologists, and neuroradiologists. “The challenge is that we have lots of children with epilepsy and not enough pediatric neurologists to identify those who could benefit from surgery or other treatment modalities,” says Lewis, who came to MUSC largely because it has these specialized teams and services. “I wanted to be at an academic medical center with the ability to offer state-of-the-art care and cutting-edge therapies, because I believe that’s what patients and families in this community deserve,” says Lewis. She is also interested in facilitating pediatric epilepsy care transitions–helping patients and their families navigate the shift from pediatric to adult care. “This area has been overlooked for a long time, but it’s important to connect them with social workers, support groups, and mental health resources in the community as they move into adult care,” says Lewis.
Currently, Lewis divides her time between the Shawn Jenkins Children's Hospital in downtown Charleston and MUSC's R. Keith Summey Medical Pavilion in North Charleston. If you would like to make an appointment with Dr. Lewis or refer a patient, please call 843-876-0444.
Progressnotes Spring 2021